training is the time when all baseball fans stretch their imaginations
a little or, in most cases, a lot, in the hope that they'll
finally see their team to a pennant. With the baseball season
longer than any other sport, and when teams like Detroit, Tampa
Bay, and Milwaukee see their seasons over as soon as mid-April,
we need to have a little something to believe in right out of
the gate. Not all of us live in New York, you know. From the
hordes of Red Sox fans lighting a candle at the basilica to
the (literally?) five or so Expos fans cursing MLB in French,
each one of us keeps an eye on spring training and thinks, "this
year, maybe we'll win big." Some of us, trying to pretend
that we're realists, look for nothing more than simple improvement,
perhaps a climb toward .500. But when that seed's planted, only
the cold at heart fail to let it grow into the wish that their
team will win it all.
The pundits fail to understand this. Armed with statistics
and logic, writers from ESPN to Baseball Digest to
your local rag scribble out predictions with all the redundancy
of Soviet wonks parroting the party line. Consider these daring
portents: The Yankees win their division; Seattle takes the
West; The Braves win with superior pitching, etc. Basically
it boils down to the same teams winning that won last year,
with the possible exception of the Twins and White Sox duking
it out. Thank you brave souls for draining the color out of
February! The folks in that frigid wasteland of Montreal thank
Now, we're not suggesting some sort of Globe
Magazine-style guessing, with Jesus Christ appearing to toss
out the first ball for the Padres. But baseball writers forget
the bottom line: Baseball is entertainment. Give us something
to talk about, even if, God forbid, you're wrong. What's the
worst that's going to happen? The economy will falter? The Yankees
will suffer some Enron-style collapse? Or do you really believe
that readers will sit back in the cold of late October and crack
open their old copies Baseball Weekly
and gasp with surprise that the staff risked choosing the Yankees
With that, the folks here at Mudville are quite sick of the
snow hardening on the ground, of the salt caked to the car and
turn our weary eyes to the field. Our own 2002 baseball predictions,
with a good balance of straight dope and outright hope.
THE AMERICAN LEAGUE
Like it or not, all roads begin with the New York Yankees. But the roads don't always have to be so flat this
year. This time the road to another redundant title is filled
with potholes, and the '98 Ford Excursion has shock problems
and a busted transmission. For starters, let's remind David
Wells that you can't go home again. Steinbrenner, furious that
his team might just be in second or third at the break, will
get his usual itchiness, and the desire to oust someone won't
result in Joe Torre's job, but in the complete and utter elimination
of poor Joe's staff, from Stottlemeyer to Zimmer. A late season
surge sends the Yanks back to the top of this weak division.
Gone are the studious, precision Yankees of the past five years
and out of the chaos rises a Yankees team similar to their 1970s
counterparts. Not the Reggie one. The one that lost to the Reds
The Tampa Bay Devil Rays
win the wild-card spot in a thrilling, one-run tie-breaker from
the Texas Rangers. That's
right, the Rays. Maybe someone made a deal with the Devil, a
la "Damn Yankees". Maybe their pitching matured from
last years second half surge. Maybe something just clicked,
in a way that the Sabermetricians can't figure out until they've
come up with ten new statistics in the offseason to explain
everything away. But with combined with failures in Boston,
Toronto and Baltimore and a lightness in competition outside
Seattle and New York, the little team that could wins 89 games
and squeezes in.
Texas, on the other hand, finds 89 games demeaning in light
of its spending and spending and spending. So where one team
sees success, the other sips the bitter draught of failure,
and the one-game playoff goes to the folks with the gleam in
their eyes. However, this same gleam cannot keep them from being
speared by the Mariners, who could care less about the damn
The Seattle Mariners
win their division behind Ichiro Suzuki's
breaking the .400 barrier. Essentially taking over the Yankees
role as the home of the fundamental, precision win, they take
their division by almost twenty games, only to bow to...
Twins. Oh, the Twins win
their division, all right, but become the first team to get
to the playoffs with a losing record, a 79-83 triumph that bests
the Chicago White Sox by one game. Sputtering into the playoffs, they manage
to regroup and defeat the Yankees, and then the Mariners, and
win the hearts of America. All hail the Twins!
THE NATIONAL LEAGUE
We open with the Atlanta Braves, for whom success seems to be as elusive, and thrilling, as a good baseball movie. The Braves fall to fourth this year, thank god, giving
the National League a breather from those continued wails of
"good pitching beats good hitting"which seems
to be the case in the regular season and not the post season.
Instead, the Philadelphia Phillies
and the Florida Marlins race for the division, the winner being the team that
can steal the most players from the drowning Expos franchise.
Of course, the Phillies win, but barely.
Diamondbacks find a thirty
game winner in either Randy Johnson or Curt Schilling. The other
wins just over twenty. However, this aging team falls apart,
barely taking 80 games. This leaves the San Francisco
Giants to take over, and
take over they will, fighting off a resilient San
Diego Padres team. But the Barry Bondsmen win out, making a go
of it in the playoffs, wasting...
Everybody's favorite, The St. Louis Cardinals, in three games. But that's not the story. For this
year belongs to the Chicago Cubs. Behind
the hitting of Sammy Sosa, the pitching of Kerry Wood, the Cubbies
defy all odd, storming through the playoffs, winning each round
by going the distance in tight games, often into extra innings.
The Twins clobber the Cubs in the first three games, only see
the determined Chicago squad take one, then two, then three
games straight. Finally, back in the dome, going the distance,
Kerry Wood strikes out 21 and Sosa blasts the game winner in
the thirteenth, for what is considered the greatest series of
all time. Two days later, and back in Chicago, the city celebrates,
as delirious fans crowd the streets, throwing open windows and
showering the victors in ticker-tape. At first, no one notices
the clouds gathering overhead. But then, as the Mayor is about
to introduce the victors, a scream pierces the revelry. Looking
up, the crowd gasps, as the face of the Devil fills the sky!
Of course, it is none other than Bud Selig.
You can always tell when you're in a city that hasn't had a
baseball team playing for, oh, almost a hundred years. Minnesota
has a forty-plus history of being a major-league town, and San
Francisco just a wee bit more. At both, baseball fans continually
mangle what is one of the sports most hollowed traditions:
They sing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" wrong.
How, you may ask, does one sing this anthem incorrectly? Understand
that this is not to criticize the performances. Certainly the
crowd's out of tune and unsynchronized. That's to be expected.
And volume isn't a problemTwins and Giants fans belt out
the lyrics with as much moxie as anyone. No, what's troubling
is the fact that everyone sings the following lyrics exactly
as the Trinitron displays them:
"And we'll root, root, root for the home
if they don't win it's a shame!"
It's not "the home team", it's "the
Twins". It's "the Giants". They
are the home teams in question.
Now, when this alarming fact has been pointed out to the surrounding
crowd, there have been multiple reactions. The first is the
stare of people hoping that you're not, in some way, dangerous.
Then, seeing the earnestness in our eyes, most admit they never
really gave it much thought, and would be happy to continue
in that frame of mind. Giants fans especially, their bellies
full of cappuccino, fine beer and wine, and sushi, are loathe
to discuss the game at all, since being at the park is more
about being seen than seeing a game. Some claim they don't know
what the fuss is aboutthat's the way they've always sang
the tune. That's fair, though if you have ever heard audiences
sing it other parks they've figured out to squeeze in the proper
noun. However, the worst excuse to come from the uninitiated
is from the Twin supporter. They claim that "Twins"
is a word with only one syllable and thereby difficult to stretch
into a two-syllable space. It could be pointed out that "Cubs"
is just as short and stubby and they've done well with "Cubbies"
over the years. True, the Twins don't really have another nickname,
aside from that depreciating "Twinkies" moniker. But
you could elongate "Twins" and sing "Twi-ins",
although that makes it sound like you're slurring the words.
Our suggestion is to leave a pregnant pause following "Twins":
"And we'll root, root, root for the Twins...
if they don't win it's a shame!"
Doesn't that sound better? Suddenly the tune becomes yet another
rallying cry for the Twins, who, in their multitude of close
games last year, thrived on exactly this type of support, especially
in late innings like the seventh.
Then again, you could just keep drinking and not worry about
In the past, we have oft heard of the conflict betwixt 'fans'
of baseball, and 'purists'. And yet, dear readers, there
is another group of aficionados of the great American pastime
the Mudville fan. Behold our little primer on
How to spot the three types of Baseball fans
: Wears any type of cap, forward or backwards,
without concern for loyalty, just fashion.
. Like the pros, sports only pure wool caps
even on the hottest of days. Team logos are of whichever
team the purist has been following since childhood, or of a
vintage team whose roster the purist knows by heart.
Mudville fan: Doffs black
umpires caps, backwards, with protective face-gear.
Casual fan: Wears whatever gaudy shirt is in
Purist: Carefully attired in autographed jersey
Mudville fan: Proudly wearing white J.C. Penney
t-shirt with team logo written in permanent ink on breast.
Casual fan: Demands the most up-to-date foodstuffs
available. From sushi to nachos to pizza, drowned in
beverages ranging from fine wines to fresh juice and smoothies.
Purist: Eats only the classics popcorn, peanuts,
Cracker-Jack, and hot dogs washed down with cheap beer
or pop, for the kiddies.
Mudville fan: Smuggles plates, napkins and that
night's meal, usually stews, in hot water bottles that make
wife look 'pregnant'. Sips water from bathroom faucets.
Casual fan: Never. Supports banning all
Purist: What's wrong with a good cigar?
Mudville fan: Pinches
snuff or sucks on bidis regardless of laws.
Casual fan: Shouts along with Queen's "We
Will Rock You".
Purist: Warbles "Take
Me Out to the Ball Game".
Mudville fan: Performs Sousa tunes
on the tuba.
Casual fan: Shouts profanity; hurls quarters,
garbage at hated players.
Purist: Chants "Hey
Badda Badda, Suh-Wing!"
Mudville fan: Shrieks the piercing
cry of dying rabbits; rubs balloons together.
Casual fan: Leaves in the seventh to insure
a speedy exit.
Purist: Stays until the very last out.
Mudville fan: Unrolls
sleeping bag, leaves first thing in the morning.